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Leather Covered Canteen Tutorial

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This is the first installment in my tutorial. It's gonna take me awhile to get it all up here. So be patient with me and I'll get there.

Well here goes nothin'.............there's been some interest shown on the forum in the canteens I make. Since I was starting

a new one, figured I'd go ahead and take some pics and post up a tutorial. So with that...............let's get started.

This is a pretty basic plastic bladder canteen. 1.jpgThey are a BPA free plastic, whatever

that means. Used to be able to get them at Wal-Mart but the only place I can find them now is from Campmor.

Here's the link for them:


This is the pattern I made for cutting out both sides of the canteen leather.



I only use the pattern as a guide to get the layout started.

It's hard to make a perfectly round cutout of anything, but the rounder the pattern is in the beginning

the better off it will be in the end. So the white poster board pattern is only used for the the center mark and the top.

When transfering the pattern to your leather trace the top part out and mark the center point. Now remove the pattern

and use a compass to draw a perfect round circle on the leather. The center point will be used for more stuff later as

well. Be sure and flip the pattern over when you go to make the next one to ensure that they will fit together better

when finally putting them together. I've posted some additional pics showing the dimensions of the patterns. Be careful

and don't make the overall circle too small as it will be tougher to sew when you get to that stage. I use a 9" circle

and that seems to work pretty good. I usually make them out of 6-7oz or 7-8 oz leather. Thicker and you'll need to

allow even more. It has been a learning curve to come to this dimension, you can go smaller and tighter but it makes

it a lot more work.6.jpg

After they are cut out, flip them over and cover the back side with packing tape. I have had the best luck using the most

expensive 3M tape I can find. . Run the second layer perpendicular to the first. Tape it down to the work surface and

then cut it loose when you are done. This way you don't have to worry about the tape flipping over and marring the grain

side of the leather. I will also sometimes use blue painters tape for covering the back. 7.jpg

Next you will need to case the leather. I am about to reveal my super secret method of casing leather.............

....run it under the faucet at the kitchen sink. 8.jpgJust so ya know, we have city water and it is very low in mineral content.

So it works out good. Don't soak it all the way thru unless you WANT to wait a really long time before you start tooling.

Hold the first one under the stream for about 10 seconds, then do the second the same. Do them both this way 2-3 times.

Then put them face to face and set something heavy on them to flatten them out and wait about an hour or so to let the

moisture do it's job and work it's way thru and mellow out the fibers. 9.jpgI don't always wait for the leather to be absolutely

perfect, especially when I know the end product will be dyed and antiqued. In that case I'm not too concerned with how

much burnishing the tool leaves or doesn't leave.

In the next pic the leather is well cased and ready to start tooling. 10.jpgThe circles you see are drawn on with my antique

compass. Down side of it is that it always leaves a dark iron mark in the center, but I can cover

it up when I antique. These circles I make are actually as deep as I can get them without breaking thru or tearing through

the grain of the leather. You can also see some very light impression of the stamps I'll be using for the tooling. I do this to

make sure my spacing on the circles is correct.

When cutting the circles with your swivel knife hold the blade in the center of the circle groove and apply very light

pressure to it for the first pass. Go in segments and turn the leather when you reach the point where you control starts

to vary. I usually will start at 1:00 and go to 3:00 then turn the leather til 3:00 is back to the 1:00 position. The trick is to

never lift your blade from the cut. When you have made it all the way around for the first pass, which should really

only cut thru the very top grain of the leather, you can go around one more time with normal pressure for the depth you

want and the previous cut wil help guide the blade like the compass groove did for the first pass.11.jpg12.jpg

Next is the finished circles with the two tools I made to turn the 2 close outside circles into a nice rounded bead. These

tools are made from Bois d'Arc wood.........or hedge apple trees as I have always known them. (thanks to my brother for the

scrap wood from his guitar making!!) I use these tools just like a swivel knife. They really let you move the leather where

you want it to be. You can use a modeling tool for this as well. But with all the blunt edges of these tools my chances of

leaving a mark in error is greatly reduced.
















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Now I have started the stamping. I always start from the outside and work to the center for some reason, mostly just personal

preference than anything else. On a side note, be sure and keep your finger nails trimmed up, especially on the hand that

holds the stamp, or you'll wind up with extra little chicken tracks all over the piece.

The border I am using for the outer circle was chosen by the customer and gives a nifty old west flare to the work. I really

like it, but it can really be a crap shoot to get it to come up even when the design finally meets itself. The tools I use for this

are V708 and a 301 which is an old tool I've had for awhile and am not sure they make anymore. I always start in the

top center of the canteen cover and work around both sides equally, 3 or 4 stamps at a time. When about a third of the way

around you can make very faint impressions with just the outside edges of the tools to see how you will meet up and then

make some adjustments if needed. This time........I gambled and won!!!! WOOHOO!!!!

15.jpg 16.jpg

Now on to the next inner circle. It is going to be the serpentine or San Carlos border as I've seen it called. (but not sure if

that is totally correct, but it does sound cool) It is tool D744300

I've seen that some people make marks with there compass to ensure correct tool

placement everytime and some will do compass marks and stamp the inside or outside then come back and do the other

side to fill in the design......but I just wing it. The goal is to make it uniform but also to keep the squiggle design at as

constant of a thickness as possible. When I say constant thickness I am talking about the squiggle line itself which is between

the tool marks and border cuts. Once again this is my preference as I have seen it done differently and it is okay but I like to

keep it thin and consistent. I feel it gives a finer look and makes for a more refined look. Too many times this tool winds up

making the design look chunky, which works on some pieces but I prefer it thin. This means you have to get your inner and

outer swivel knife cuts spaced just right, too wide and it will wind up chunky too narrow and well, it just winds up kind of

scrawny and weird. So practice on some scrap to get your line and tool spacing correct.

Do the same with this tool as the outer border and start at the top and check your spacing with light tool marks as the design

approaches itself. And as you can see......once again.....gambled and won!!!!



Next is the drawing made for me by the wonderful lady that takes orders for me in the store that takes my stuff on

consignment. She is getting really good at drawing out my canteen designs for me. She'll even do a rubbing from some

of my other canteens on display to be sure and let me know exactly what the customer wants. How cool!!


As you can see I've got some lettering to do. This is the hardest part for me. No matter how you count the letters and try

to allow to find the center of the top and bottom lettering.....it doesn't always work. This one got a little off center

but still came out good. I do it one letter at a time and do not use the spacing that you get when you put one letter

stamp against the other, I think it leaves to much space between them. The best advice I can give is to do your

lettering on some scrap first then do the real thing.

The next pic is of my super secret circle lettering jig that I devised. 24.jpg

It is pretty self explanatory and you'll see how it is used in the pics. 25.jpg

I will always place the jig and letter stamp in place and make a very light impression to determine if I have

good spacing between letters and words. Once again, ya just hafta eyeball it. If possible do your lettering on a piece of

scrap first then make the needed adjustments and move it over to the real deal. In the finished result you can see that I

use a seed tool to seperate the top and bottom lettering. When I have more room I'll do a something a little more

elaborate to seperate them. 26.jpg













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Thank you for sharing

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For the center of the canteen I'll be doing initials or a brand. In this case its initials made to look somewhat like a brand.

My inside secret for this is that I use picnik.com to lay out, size and position my lettering. I save a blank white page in the

paint program then upload it to picnik to use as my "background" then just start playing with the lettering til I come up

with something I like. My next big secret is that I use my computers monitor as a light table to trace the design over

onto the tracing film so I can transfer it to the leather. Yet another trick is that you can keep recycling your tracing film, just

use a different color Sharpie marker every time you use it and and you can just keep going. But in this case the designs

had no chance of interfering with each other so I just used black again.


Use a stylus to transfer the design on the film to the leather. After that you can cut the design in with a swivel knife.

Nothing too important about it but just be sure and keep the outside edges clean and straight as any mistakes will be

very obvious on these edges.


Once you get it all cut in you can start in with the matting tool. I have used several different

matting stamps but I prefer A104 as it is small enough to get into sharp corners and leaves a nice dark background

once the antiquing is on. I used in on the edges first, but not necassarily all at once, then fill in between them. When

going along the swivel knife cuts angle the tool as shown to keep the edges clean and track free. It takes

practice to get it to come out even as well as to eliminate the tool marks. Don't be afraid to go back over it to make it

more consistent as well as to keep it level. Some of the matting tools are harder to make more consistent due to the

marks on the tool face being wider spaced. But whatever you use just make it even and level with as few tool marks visible

as you possibly can.




Next you have to cut your stiching groove around the sides of both the front and back. You can do this at anytime before

or after you tool the pieces. Cut the groove around the outside first. I use an adjustable stitch groover to do this. It is

actually the cheap one that Tandy sells and I have been using the same blade for about 5 years now and do

absolutely nothing to keep it sharp..........it just keeps working. I set it at around 1/4 to 3/16 " in from the edge. You can

see in the pics how I do this. Now for the one section at the top that you can't get to I once again use my handy dandy

antique compass and scribe a line that I then cut with my free hand groover. Go slow and steady and follow the groove

and it will come out good.




The white template in the next pic is what I use to layout the back of the canteen. The ruler gives you the basic

measurements if you want to make your own. But you get the idea. Anyway, I use a stylus and trace it out on the back.

Now in preparation for tooling I draw a line from corner to corner on each of the 4 panels. Next I start the tooling.

You can pretty much look at the pics to see how I lay this all out. The stamp I am using is a G548. You'll need to figure

out the spacing from end to end along this line to keep it even then start stamping. Wath the edges and don't go over

the lines. After you get all the full impressions made that you can come back and start making the partial impressions

to fill up to the edge. The neat thing about this tool is that you can rock it on one corner or two to get partial

impressions from it.





After you get the big stamp work all done it is time to come back and do the borders. For this I use a 441. I don't think

it is made any longer but you can use whatever you prefer for the border. Camoflage tools or border tools can be used

for this purpose. For each section I will first stamp each of the 4 corners as shown in the pic. Then come back and start

filling in between them, going from side to side meeting in the middle. Watch your spacing and make some light

impressions and you can get them to turn out everytime. Which is the beauty of this kind of border. It is very forgiving.

Now all you have to do is come back in and do all 8 of the sides the same way.






























Edited by Timbo

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As you can see from the finished pic of the back, I put the initials on the back as well.....with my cartouche at the bottom.

If the customer doesn't want anything personalized on the back I will put my cartouche in the center with a circle around

it made with the same crescent border tool.


Here are the finished front and back parts of the canteen. All the tooling is done, the leather is dry and the tape has been


Now for the stitching..............

Start by running your chosen overstitch wheel around the outside to mark your stitch spacing. Start at the bottom part of

the vertical groove where it meets the circular groove. Go up, over, down and around. Do this on the left and right sides

and let the grooves meet at the bottom. The bottom is the part that will not be seen much so the top will be stitched up

symetrically on both sides. 54.jpg

Now I will prepunch my stitching holes on the front side. Sometimes I will chuck my awl blade

up in the drill press and use it as an arbor press to punch the holes. Sometimes I just use my awl and haft and prepunch

the holes laying flat on my bench. (with something under the leather to protect the blade of course) The reason I pre punch

is that it just makes it so much easier to run the awl thru one thickness rather than 2.


Now before the stitching begins, edge and burnish the 2 rounded edges where the canteen neck will be. It is important

to do them now as once it is sewn, access to them will be limited. I use my homemade burnishing tool in my Dremel to

finish the edges. For this application I just used water on the edges before I slicked them. Now put the glue of your

choosing on the top tabs and glue them together. Be sure and get them even before you press them together for the

final time.



Now to start the saddle stiching. Start stitching at the same point you started your overstitching. Run you awl thru

three or four holes to start and get your stitches started. Since there is no real pressure strength issues on these

stitches there is no reason to do any back stitching at the start. When you run your awl thru the back side be sure and

watch you spacing and hit the middle of the groove as best as you can. As the pictures will show, the stitching on the

backside will not be uniform if you don't hold the first thread in the proper position when you run the second on thru.

It will take a little playing around with it and you might need to hold the first thread up or maybe down. So figure out

which one works and do it consistently and the stiches on the back will be as uniform as the stiches on the front. As

you can see from the first 3 or 4 stitches on the back side you have to figure out which way to hold the first thread

after you bring it thru so it will make the rear stitches lay right and look good. You also might have to make some

adjustments to this after you turn a corner. Don't pull the stiches too tight or they could rip out or cause the leather

to pucker.





Keep stitching until you are little over half way around on each side. When you have gotten to this point on both sides

keep using the awl and punch the rest of the stitch holes in the back side. This will make sewing it up during the wetmolding

process much easier. It is also impossible to keep stich lengths uniform on wet stretchy leather. But before you get the leather

wet, go ahead and punch the strap holes at the top of each tab.




















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Now you can get the leather wet. Soak it inside and outside until it is just wet enough. Don't just throw it in a tub of water

and let it sit. The longer it is in the water the more likely you are to start losing some of the depth of your impressions.

It's hard for to tell you how wet to get it, just get it wet a little at a time until you feel the moisture level is something you

can work with easily. You can always put more water on it. But no matter how much or how little water you use.......you are

going to lose some depth to your impressions, especially those on the outside edges.

Now before you go ahead and stuff the canteen into the leather, use your hands and thumbs to stretch the leather around

the sewn seams. You don't have to stretch it alot but getting it opened up will help greatly in the molding process. Once you

have done this go ahead and stuff the canteen into the leather. Be sure and keep the neck of the canteen centered in the

opening and as soon as you can get the cap on. This helps to keep the canteen from crushing and once it is on you can

get a little more physical in getting it in the leather. But don't get to rough with it as it could still crush or tear a hole in it.

Once you get the canteen in there go ahead and resume your stitching. It will help if you will take one of your needles

and open the holes back up so they will be easier to find when you are looking for them. I'll usually take 10-15 stitches then

go over to the other side and stitch it for 10-15. Do this until you get it all stitched up. But be warned the last 10 or so stitches

causes the leather to pucker and do really weird things that make it hard to find the stitching holes. To finish it off I will

overstitch the last couple stitches and take the thread to the back side and cut them off flush. Now set it aside for a day or

two (depending on your humidity level) and let it dry. Sometimes after it dries I will cut all the stitches out to do my dying

and finishing, then sew it back up with bright white thread so it will looke all brand new and pretty. Something about

nice white stitching just makes the final product "pop" if you know what I mean.





On this canteen, before it is totally dry, I will even up the edges some by rolling them on my rock and what doesn't even

out like I think it should gets a light sanding from my Dremel drum when it is dry. Be carefull with that tool as it is easy to

take too much off or burn the edges. Then when it is dry I will edge it. I tend to leave the edges flat and just round off the

corners. But if you have a big enough edger you can totally round them off which is also a nice look. You can also use a

Dremel and sanding drum to round the edges to your taste........but be careful!!! (I'll dull a new sanding drum on some

hardwood or something before taking it to the leather)

















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This is great so far! You shot some nice tight photo sequences. Can't wait to see how it comes out. Thanks for taking the time to show us how to do this.


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Now it's time to cover the cap with leather. The perfect piece of leather for this job is that stack of flanky, stretchy belly

pieces that you don't ever have a use for. Allow yourself plenty of excess. I usually start with a piece 5-6" across in both

directions. Throw it in a bowl of water and let it get good and saturated. While it is soaking I will cut the little button off

the top of the canteen cap. Set the cap down on your rock or other hard surface and put the well saturated piece of wet

leather on top of it, keeping it centered. Now take a 2.5" PVC pipe cap and drive it down over the leather and cap with

you mallet. The trick here is to have drilled a hole in the top center of the cap to let the air out. Without the hole it will

be really hard getting the cap to go down over the wet leather. You're going to have to smack it pretty good, but be careful

and not smack it too hard or you can break the canteen cap. You also have to judge the thickness of your leather for this

as well. Too thick and it won't go over the cap. Once you get the 2.5" cap driven down over it and it is nice and even all

the way around, take a 3" pipe cap and slip it down over the 2.5" cap and press it down and turn. Keep doing this until

you get a good ring going. Take the 3" cap off and set it all aside for 4-5 hours and let it dry out some. Once it has dried

a little put the 3" cap back on and press and turn some more. This time it will leave a nice burnished ring. Take all the

caps off and set it aside and let it dry some more. Before it is totally dry cut off all the excess leather up to the outside

circle. Now roll the edges of this until they are sticking up out the pipe cap. You can also use the 3" cap for this purpose

too. Set it aside without it being in any of the pipe caps and let it dry totally. When dry take the knife of your choosing

with a sharp blade and trim all the excess off even with the bottom of the plastic canteen cap. When that is done and

even all the way around, use your edger to round off the square edge you just made. Now you can burnish it and finish

it as normal. When you are done finishing the cap be sure and glue the leather to the plastic. In this case I riveted on

a small thong that I will use to keep the cap from being lost. I also make a keeper for the other end of the thong that goes

around the neck of the canteen.


































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The strap of the canteen can be made any way you want. For this one I used a conway buckle from Jermiah Watt. It is

stainless steel and very, very nice. For a saddle canteen I usually keep the strap fairly short. Somewhere around 18-20

inches long. I like to tie the straps on with leather thongs and tie them off with bleed knots. For a saddle canteen I put

a twist in it so it stays on the saddle horn better.

The last tip I will give is to slip a cardboard paper towel or tp roll over the neck to keep it clean when you are dying or

staining the canteen.







This customer wanted this canteen to be finished in a "rustic" fashion so that is what it is. It can be finished much much nicer

and given a way more refined look if that is what you want.

Well there it is................didn't plan on it taking this long but I wanted to be thorough. Hope it looks interesting enough

for you to want to make your own or at least use some of the tips I've passed on. If anyone has any questions, don't

hesitate to ask. ............and if you've stuck with it this far....well thanks for that too!!!!

Tim Jones

Drunk Horse Custom Leather

Pueblo West, CO













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Very cool, thanks for taking the time and putting in the effort.

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Not sure what to say. Except that has to be one of the best tutorials I've seen. Oh, and I love the super secret letter circle thingy. Fantastic Timbo. Now I want to try it. Got so many things on the want to list now but thats a gotta try thing. My nephew will love it. Thanks.


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Not bad for a Neosho Boy! ;) .

Seriously that is an awesome tutorial and I can pretty much guarantee my son and I will be trying at least one of those. I showed it to him last night and he thought it would be a must have for our cowboy gun cart.

Thanks for all that time and effort Timbo!

Vaya con Dios,


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Great tutorial, Timbo - I'm looking forward to making one of these!


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Excellent tutorial and finished product. Everything was interesting and clear, but I especially liked your method for doing the circular lettering. Thanks for posting this.

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Thanks from me too. This was a great tutorial and is something I have been wanting to try. Thanks again.

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Dear Timbo, very great tutorial. This is the next project I will make. I do have a question though. I'm Dutch and understand most of it, but what I do not understand is putting the tape on (the back I assume). Why is that and when do you take it of again. Is it to keep the leather in shape until finished stamping? And you make the piece wet while the tape is on and then start tooling? I do not know if I understand this part correctly, sorry.

Furthermore, the 2 wooden pieces when working on the cirkels. What are they used for? Sorry I do not understand this part, but some English words are used that are not familiar to me.

Another question I have is if there is a standard to measure the width of the circel. What if I can only get a bigger or smaller canteen? How do I then find out what size I should make/cut out?

I already downloaded and read the whole piece and am looking forward to start.

Thank you for this great tutorial and greetings from The Netherlands

Edited by Marietje

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Dear Timbo, very great tutorial. This is the next project I will make. I do have a question though. I'm Dutch and understand most of it, but what I do not understand is putting the tape on (the back I assume). Why is that and when do you take it of again. Is it to keep the leather in shape until finished stamping? And you make the piece wet while the tape is on and then start tooling? I do not know if I understand this part correctly, sorry. The tape is put on before the tooling is begun and left on thru the whole tooling process, the purpose of the tape is to keep the leather from stretching during the tooling. It is put on before getting the leather wet and is taken off when the leather is just about dry. With alot of big tooling, like on the backside, the leather will stretch to the point of being too big for the project without the tape in place.

Furthermore, the 2 wooden pieces when working on the cirkels. What are they used for? Sorry I do not understand this part, but some English words are used that are not familiar to me. The little wooden tools are used to round up the bead between the 2 closest swivel knife circles. instead of it just being flat on top this moved the leather up in the center and causes it to look like a nice rounded bead.

Another question I have is if there is a standard to measure the width of the circel. What if I can only get a bigger or smaller canteen? How do I then find out what size I should make/cut out? The best way to measure the canteen is with a flexible tape measure, one like they use for dress making and alterations. Always allow more than you think you'll need, you can trim it off later. But it sure is hard to put back on!!!

I already downloaded and read the whole piece and am looking forward to start.

Thank you for this great tutorial and greetings from The Netherlands

Hope the above in red will help you get started on your project!!!!


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I'm glad everyone is liking the tutorial and feel free to ask any more questions if you have them.

I tried to make the tutorial encompass more than just the basics, which is why I've included the tooling and sewing parts to the degree that I did. I wanted to show everything so that no matter the persons skill level, every part was covered. Hopefully people new to the craft will learn how alot of things are done and maybe the old timers can pick up something too.

I have learned so much from this site over the years that I wanted to put something up and give back a little as well.

And everyone who reads this and builds a canteen HAS to post up pics of it when you are done. I can't wait to see what you guys can do!!!

THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR ALL THE COMMENTS AND CUDO'S!!!!! They are mucho appreciated!!!

The Neosho boy...........


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Thanks so much what a great guy doing all this thumbs up and you have inspired me.


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Thanks for the great tutorial Timbo, I hadn't seen any good pictures of leatherwork that used the freehand groover, I'm a lefty so need one of those.



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Thank you so much for your answer. Understand completely. I am looking for a same kind of canteen over here, but cannot find one anywhere, only oval ones, or very old ones from the war (doubt if they are still water-tight). Well, I will keep on looking and otherwise have to think of a way to make a basic pattern to cut-out for an oval one. I think ordering one in the US and sending it over makes it rather expensive.

Very good idea for the tape. Think I will start doing that with all my leatherwork (I assume at least that is possible), cause you are right that the leather stretches.

Thanks again!

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Absolutely great tutorial. That lettering jig is a great idea. Thanks for putting it together.

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